You may have found honey for sale that mentioned the term ‘organic’ in the product description. Have you been deceived? Surely the $10 Kg tub of honey you just purchased from Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace is as organic as the seller listed it, right? You may have even paid a premium price for an organic honey product from a seemingly genuine honey producer or retailer. Did you get what you paid for?
This post dives into determining what constitutes organic honey, and how to tell if you are actually buying what is being advertised.
Looks organic enough, right?
Why does the term ‘organic honey’ actually matter?
We see a lot of beekeepers identify their honey as ‘organic’. We trust that for the most part there is no intent to deceive customers through the use of the term ‘organic’ in advertising their honey. Instead, people selling their pure, natural, raw, and self-harvested honey, also view it as being organic. This is often not the case though.
Some readers may view this as us simply arguing semantics for the sake of it. Who really gives a toss what people call their honey, right? We do not feel as though that is the case at all. Upon explaining what we are about to discuss below, customers and beekeepers alike should be aware of the inaccuracies in what they perceive as being organic honey. Not to mention, once people are made aware of what it takes to actually gain organic certification, they are generally more receptive to the frustration legitimate organic honey producers may have with others incorrectly labelling products. Likewise, customers who value the organic status of the food they consume deserve to know whether they are getting what they are paying for.
What is organic honey?
We see there being two ways of addressing what organic honey is. There is the definition of what constitutes a product as being organic produce, and then the legislative conditions that stipulate whether something is indeed organic.
Organic produce is produced without exposure to chemicals
First, we find the dictionary definition of organic when pertaining to food as being ‘produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.’ From this definition, we can derive the concept that in order for food to be organic, it must be free from exposure to chemicals. In the same vein, this tells us is that the involvement of chemicals in the production of a food denies it the status of ‘organic.’ Sure, the beekeeper may not have intentionally applied any chemical to their hive or the bees, but when left to forage for kilometres on end, there is no telling what kinds of chemicals bees will have been exposed to and in turn, brought into their hives themselves.
While some beekeepers go out of their way to ensure that their honey is organic, it is actually a very difficult thing to achieve. For the majority of beekeepers who keep their hives within close proximity of their own or other people’s properties, it is simply impossible to tell what kinds of mischief their bees get up to. Bees will forage for several kilometres surrounding their hive. This means that as beekeepers in urban or rural areas, we really don’t know exactly where the bees are foraging and what kinds of environments they are exposing themselves to. We can guess, but we can’t be 100% certain.
Look, is most honey going to be perfectly healthy to consume? More than likely. However, as mentioned above, unless guaranteed as organic, we can never really be certain of its organic nature. Again, some honey may be side-by-side as pure and organic in substance as another, but without some kind of regulation, the consumer can never really be entirely sure as to which seller to believe. In order to ensure that some kind of ‘across the board’ standard is achieved, governing bodies have implemented standards by which food producers (beekeepers included) can measure and have third party verification of their organic status.
Beekeepers must undergo an organic certification process if they wish to sell organic honey
How beekeepers gain organic certification
The process is a long and tedious one. It begins with a honey producer applying and undergoing a 12-month pre-certification process. The beekeeper’s production history, current operations, equipment, hive management procedures and future plans are all audited in line with the standards set out by the certification office (CO). Some of the practices that the beekeeper must comply with are as follows:
– All wax comb must be cycled out to organic wax within the 12 months leading up to certification unless already proven to be organically sourced.
– All apiaries (beehive locations) must be located no closer than 5km from pollution sources such as urban areas, orchards, livestock dipping facilities, rubbish disposal facilities, contaminated water, golf courses and GMO crops. Yes, that’s a 5km radius!
– All woodenware used in the hive construction must be free from toxic paints, preservatives or coatings.
– The frames used in the hive should be made of wood or plastic construction or other non-contaminating materials.
– Wing clipping of queen bees is prohibited, as is the destruction of male (drone) brood.
– Wax produced from the hive must only be processed in stainless steel wax melters with food-safe wax moulds.
– All honey must be stored at temperatures below 45 degrees Celcius and in conditions which prevent contamination from environmental factors or containers.
– Individual batches of honey must be labelled in such a way as to clearly identify locations, floral types and harvesting dates, with strict adherence needed by the producer.
Organic honey comes from genuinely remote locations.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list.
Click here for more detail on the above list. If you are a beekeeper or very keen consumer and would like to check out the standards, then you can find them here and here. What you should be able to take away from the above though, is that there are a number of criteria beekeepers must adhere to in order to apply the organic certification label to their products. While many beekeepers can easily purchase or make their own clean and chemical-free equipment, it should be clear that your average backyard beekeeper will not be able to adhere to all of the requirements above.
What beekeepers have to do to maintain organic compliancy
Even once a beekeeper has attained organic certification, they are subject to yearly audits in order to maintain their certification. Random inspections can be carried out at any time, and the CO has the right to revoke the certification if compliance is determined to have lapsed.
Organic honey produced in Western Australia comes from deep within the forests in the South West, or from the remote inland areas such as the Goldfields. These areas are a long distance from the major population centres, so they require long and expensive commutes back and forth for hive inspections and to harvest. The costs of transporting heavy machinery to and from remote areas can in itself make organic production of honey a cost inhibitive process for beekeepers. Couple this with the destruction of appropriate apiary sites due to land clearing and bushfires, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for beekeepers to maintain organic certification.
As you can see, it is actually quite difficult to produce organic honey. It’s not too hard to imagine how frustrating it may be for the genuine organic sellers to see the term ‘organic honey’ splashed around so freely. This is not a problem confined to honey production. We see this is in other areas of agricultural production such as fruit and vegetable crops, where producers feel their product is organic enough for the term to be used in their marketing, even though it may not fit the standards. We don’t exactly believe in having a controlling nanny state, but when it comes to what people consume we do support a degree of regulation. It is unfair for consumers to be paying hard-earned money based on a presumption of a certain quality, only to be delivered a false product. We feel it is in everyone’s interest for sellers to adhere to regulations.
Does the Perth Honey Company sell organic honey?
Like many others, while the honey we sell has been harvested in a natural way, we cannot claim to be organically certified. Our equipment is kept clear of pesticides, we don’t clip our queen’s wings, and we’re not old enough to have tins of lead paint sitting around to use on our hives anyway. Still, we have not undergone the rigours of organic compliance, so would not dare label our honey as organic.
We have some of our hives in suburban yards across Perth. Is this honey any less wholesome than the honey we produce from our bush bees that probably never see a human in their lives? We can’t tell the difference. That said though, we appreciate that many people do prefer the organic status of food, and luckily for them, there are legitimate beekeepers out there who cater for this demand.
How do I know if it is organic Australian honey?
If you feel you would like to buy organic honey, look for reputable beekeepers or honey producers with the certification logos like those pictured below. While many of these sellers will have invested significantly in gaining organic certification for some of their honey, be mindful that not all of their products will be organic. Therefore, look for individual labelling of the honey that you are buying. This is simply due to the fact that most producers will be sourcing their honey from hives in different locations, not all of which will be organically approved. On the whole though, producers with organic certification will maintain high standards across the board with all of their products.
Whether you feel we’re being pedantic or not, the fact is that incorrectly marketing honey as organic does no one any favours – customers or other honey producers alike. The overuse of the term ‘organic’ dilutes the significance, and therefore the value of the product from those producers who go to the trouble of establishing and maintaining their organic certification. If we can achieve anything from this article, ideally it would be to create awareness and inform fellow beekeepers and honey purchasers of the measures it takes to become certified organic. Hopefully, this post can encourage beekeepers to do the right thing by their industry partners, and enable consumers to make a more informed decision prior to buying honey.
As always, we’re open to comments and opinions below, and feel free to share this with anyone you feel may benefit from reading this.